Hydro electricity plant in the Yorkshire Dales passes million milestone
Community-owned River Bain Hyrdo Ltd’s Wensleydale based hydro plant began generating environmentally sustainable electrical energy in June 2011 and it passed the one million kWh milestone – or one gigawatt hour – on February 22 this year.
River Bain Hydro is now reliably generating an average of 224 kW per day over the course of a year, which equates to the annual energy requirements of 28 houses.
The scheme was financed by 190 company shareholders as well as a grant of £50,000 from the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s Sustainable Development Fund. Currently there are 185 shareholders, with about 40 of them living locally.
A River Bain Hydro Ltd shareholder and project leader, Deborah Millward from Wensleydale, who is a former Member of the National Park Authority, said it was a welcome milestone but more still needs to be done, even on a smaller scale.
She said: “To have generated a gigawatt of electricity is a welcome milestone. To have done so as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change releases its devastating report is a sobering thought.
“In 2011 when Bainbridge hydro was put in, it was a bit of a trend setter. It was never about making money; it was all about making green energy. There are now two further plants in the Raydale catchment.”
“I am pleased to have been a part of what we now call Net Zero but I think we are all going to have to take much more responsibility for our own personal energy requirements. I have had solar panels for a decade and have just gone fossil fuel free at home but uptake is going to have to be much, much faster if we are to hand on a safe home and planet to tomorrow’s children.”
The Archimedes’ screw of the hydro plant can be seen turning from the road bridge over the River Bain in the village of Bainbridge. It is dependant upon water flows which mean that while it hasn’t been as effective as the feasability study suggested, the plant has a service life of 25 years and is being consumed alongside other electricity sources.
It had been hoped there would be 290 days of operation to produce the annual energy requirements of 40 houses but dryer summers have hampered this but River Bain Hydro has worked with Durham based hydro specialists, Bluenergy, to overcome the challenges.
Tom Fairey, a director of River Bain Hydro and a retired electrical engineer, said: “When I first became involved with River Bain Hydro about five years ago, the plant had unreliability problems, which meant the output was severely depressed. I found gaining an understanding of the problems both interesting and challenging. The unreliability problems have now been resolved and the generator operates with high reliability whenever water flow in the River Bain permits operation.
“During 2022 water flow in the river permitted operation during 196 days with 100 per cent reliability. Clearly, like all forms of renewable electricity production, River Bain Hydro can never be the sole means of electricity supply to Bainbridge. The important point is that the energy produced makes a valuable contribution to the overall national renewable energy mix.
"Operational experience has shown water flow in the River Bain does not support anything like the feasibility study estimated energy production, especially with the dry summers experienced over recent years. However the plant is designed to have a service life of at least 25 years and should be able to be reliably operated, with appropriate maintenance, for many years into the future.”
The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has a record of supporting hydro schemes across the National Park.
In addition to the turbine at Bainbridge, it has also helped to fund works at Killington and Halton Gill, as well as numerous feasibility and design studies to develop schemes such as at Linton Falls.
The support for hydro further continued this year when the Authority awarded a £26,000 Sustainable Development Fund grant for a turbine on Backstone Gill at Kingsdale Head Farm.
A total of £185,000 was awarded in SDF grants in 2022/3, bringing the total invested by the Authority over the SDF’s 20 years of operation to more than £3.4million.